Thoughts on guided tours, high seasons, and rental cars


We learn from observation, but mostly we learn from our mistakes.  That is where our trip to Alaska comes in.  We’d been working hard and desparatly wanted to take a trip but didn’t have time to plan one.  We also had airline miles to use or lose. Where could we fly that we’d always wanted to go with those miles?  Alaska!

Hey, it’s very big state and we didn’t have a lot of ideas for exactly what to do – so why not find a guided trip and go where they took us?  We saw a little ad in the back of a great magazine for an affordable 10-day camping trip.  Perfect, we thought – until it wasn’t.

The group didn’t really jell, the guide and food were mediocre, the weather horrible.  For 10 days’ vacation we had a lot of time to think about where we’d gone wrong and vowed not to repeat our mistakes.

Guided tours

We decided that for us, we would only take a guided trip for very specialized travel in the future, like a hiking trip in the Himalayas, a voyage to Antarctica, or a walking safari in Africa.

A safari in Tanzania called for excellent guides so we booked our trip with Mark Thornton Safaris.

We get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction planning our own trips.  Every detail is to our own specifications and every dollar is well spent.   The longest trip we planned when our children were young was a 3-month trip spanning their entire school vacation.  We exchanged houses in Denmark, Italy and France and our only travel costs were transportation.

A photo from that long-ago trip to the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen.

Could we organize a serious birdwatching trip in Ecuador without booking a guided tour?  After months of research online, we discovered Jane Lyons’ name on a list of recommended Ecuador birding guides which led us to a glorious stay at her Reserva Las Gralarias.  

Over the week’s stay, we saw 181 bird species taking day trips out into the countryside with our friends, and dining and sleeping every night at the Reserva.  How we appreciated having a base for those daily outings!

High season

We enjoy spending our vacation hours outside and if we could order the perfect weather, we’d ask for sunny and warm with no rain.  Why not choose the perfect conditions for your visits by looking at monthly average weather charts for your next destination?  If we discover we’re traveling in  is high season, so be it. We highly prioritize good weather for our trips.

Years ago we planned a walking trip to Tuscany with a group of family and friends.  One couple had to bow out and instead took the trip on their own in the very early Spring.  They saved a lot of money since it was the low season but knew it was a potentially cool and rainy time of year.  They spent miserable days walking in pouring rain.  The rest of us went in May based on projected perfect weather.  Lovely!  We felt the extra money we paid was well worth it.

Of course, if you plan to be inside museums and shops during your visit, who cares if it’s cool and rainy outside?  Why not go in off-season for the savings?

Rental cars

For our travel outside the U.S., we have only rented a car six times.  Our philosophy is to walk everywhere we can, and when we want to go further, take public transport.  Oh, we can’t begin to describe the beauty of slowing down (way down) and taking in all the sights by means of walking.

We booked tickets in a 4-person sleeper on the overnight train from Shanghai to Guilan, China.  A well-behaved little boy and his mother shared one of the berths.

A much nicer overnight train took us south from Hanoi, Vietnam.  Our destination the next day was Hoi An.

While planning a trip for 6 friends to Turkey, we struggled with how to get from Selcuk, where we planned to visit Ephesus, to Bodrum on the southwest coast.  As we looked into bus routes, we discovered many important archaeological sites between the two, so we asked our reliable innkeeper to arrange a van with driver to turn the 2.5 hour drive into a full day trip with stops at those important sites.

We made stops at Priene (photo), Miletus, Didyma, and Euromus.

A rental car is an expensive drain on a travel budget, and we prefer to keep our travel “slow” when in-country.

Other travelers will have different opinions on guided tours, high season and rental cars.  The important point is to learn what works well for you and to apply that to your future trip arrangements.  What is your own “lesson learned” rule now applied to your travel planning?


April 2020

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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2 Responses to Thoughts on guided tours, high seasons, and rental cars

  1. Beth and Joe – checking back on my favorite blogs after a loooong time away. We’ve moved from Cal’s Central Coast to Olympia,Wa – bad planning on our part, since we collided with the Covid-19 crisis. All’s well with us. Hope you are healthy and happily enjoying your new spot. All the best – Susan

  2. What a timely question. I have an entire post about travel mistakes and lessons learned coming out tomorrow! 🙂

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